US start-up Connect Airlines has placed an order to convert up to 100 ATR 72-600 regional aircraft to hydrogen powertrains, part of its ambition to become the “world’s first true zero-emission airline.”
The order, announced on June 9, 2022, comprises a firm order to convert 75 ATRs with Universal Hydrogen powertrains, plus purchase rights for an additional 25. It follows on from a previous deal signed by the two companies in 2021.
“We have committed to being the world’s first true zero-emission airline and the only way to accomplish this in the near term is with hydrogen,” said John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines, in a statement.
The announcement comes as efforts progress to reduce the aviation industry’s dependence on traditional kerosene. Companies such as Universal Hydrogen and ZeroAvia are working on hydrogen or hydrogen-electric propulsion systems for smaller, regional aircraft, while some operators of larger jet aircraft see sustainable aviation fuel as the best way to reduce emissions in the short-term while the technology scales up.
Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko said Connect was leading the march to meet emissions reduction targets.
“This march will very soon need to turn into a sprint if the industry has any hope of decarbonizing in time without having to curtail the growth in passenger volumes,” Eremenko commented. “We will need to convert most of the regional fleet in the 2020s and ensure that the new narrowbody aircraft built in the 2030s are hydrogen-powered—there is no other way to get there.”
Universal Hydrogen offers a hydrogen conversion kit for the ATR 72-600 regional turboprop. It also offers hydrogen fuel services to airports using a modular capsule system that can use existing equipment.
The deal with Connect will also see Universal Hydrogen providing fuel services to the airline’s fleet, which Universal Hydrogen said will enable operating unit economics that “are equivalent or better than those of hydrocarbon-powered ATR 72s from the very first delivery in 2025.”
“We see the partnership with Universal Hydrogen as the fastest path to zero-emission operation because they offer both an affordable retrofit solution for the existing airplane fleet, as well as a pragmatic approach to delivering hydrogen to any airport in our route network,” said Thomas. “With this technology and its economics, we see the demand growing to 800 new aircraft added to the regional fleet over the next decade.”
Under the 2021 deal, Connect Airlines committed to purchase 24 of Universal Hydrogen’s green hydrogen conversion kits, consisting of a firm order for 12 Dash 8-300 kits and purchase rights for 12 additional kits of other aircraft types.